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December 2020 Reading Round Up + Podcast

I didn’t read too much in December, favouring festive films this year and spending more time with my rabbits. With no social visits for humans, the furry siblings had the best Christmas ever, which helped lighten the mood. The two have definitely noticed the difference as normal days have resumed.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Elizabeth Baines: Astral Travel – Following her father’s death, Josephine looks to make sense of his abusive behaviour through writing about him, and there is a lot more to uncover than her family will allow into the book. Probably the best book about childhood abuse I’ve read – this is an incredibly difficult book to read but the study and further exploration is exquisitely done.

Marianne Holmes: A Little Bird Told Me – Robin has returned to the place of most of her childhood (relavent) in order to find the truth behind the crying women her mother had round the house, the police visits, and the man in the cowboy hat who knew who she was and seemed protective but very off. Trying not to spoil it too much – this is a very good book that looks carefully at its subjects.

Baines’ book, which I am admittedly very behind on reviewing, is superb and worth the difficult moments. Holmes’ book is easier, but the subject no less difficult if very different. Both well worth the time.

I’m already on book two of 2021 which I consider a success. The unintentional breaks in blogging have done me the world of good too and I’m looking forward to sharing the posts I have ready.


This week’s podcast episode is with Marianne Holmes. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

Charlie and Marianne Holmes (A Little Bird Told Me; All Your Little Lies) discuss procedures when children go missing, societal changes in regards to domestic violence in the 1970s, and, on a lighter note, trying not to finish books you’re not enjoying.

To see all the details including links to other apps, I’ve made a blog page here.

 
November 2020 Reading Round Up + Podcast

November was fairly difficult this year but it’s getting a lot better. I didn’t read as much as usual but I did enjoy what I read, very much, and ended the month with a book started that I’ve since finished and enjoyed too. I’m now looking at trying to get through a backlog of books in terms of reviewing; I’m not the best at writing reviews for books I read a while back – even a week and I struggle! – but I’ll see how it goes.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Deborah Swift: Past Encounters – originally published under the name Davina Blake; when Peter comes home from war, Rhoda marries him, but she’s never been very happy and when she finds a note from a woman she becomes suspicious. A truly excellent book.

Deborah Swift: The Occupation – as the Germans approach Jersey, Celine’s German husband Fred goes off to fight and Celine herself misses the evacuation; instead of leaving for England she and her Jewish friend, Rachel, must stay on the island, whilst in France, Fred must assume the role of a Frenchman to infiltrate the resistance. An excellent book that is fearless in its motive to show what it must and has a very poignant ending.

Roselle Lim: Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop – in order to try to hone the fortunetelling ability she has tried to neglect for fear and dislike of it, Vanessa agrees to stay with Aunt Evelyn in Paris for a couple of weeks; the one thing that can’t be changed, is a fortuneteller’s fate to never find a romantic match, and when Vanessa meets Marc she strives to enjoy the time for as long as it lasts. An incredibly enjoyable magically realistic novel that envelopes you in its generally happy world and brights a rainy day.

As said, I enjoyed all three books. Lim’s made a chilly rainy autumn afternoon much better, Swift’s second book caught me with its ending and her use of characterisation to explore aspects of history, and re-reading Past Encounters, this time with proper knowledge of the film (I hadn’t watched it the first time around) inevitably allowed for an entirely different reading which was interesting to consider as its own element.

I wrote a post on it so I’ll keep it short here: December, or, rather, Christmas, is about finishing books.


This week’s podcast episode is with Deborah Swift. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

Charlie and Deborah Swift (Past Encounters; The Occupation; the forthcoming The Lifeline, also many books sets in the 1600s such as The Lady’s Slipper; A Divided Inheritance) discuss Brief Encounter at Carnforth, the experiences of prisoners of war at the time and once back home, the real life story of a Jersey woman who hid her Jewish friend, and reactions to the death of the last woman in Britain to be given capital punishment.

To see all the details including links to other apps, I’ve made a blog page here.

 
October 2020 Reading Round Up + Podcasts

October was quite busy as reading and podcasting goes. I was a little under the weather for a few weeks of it – torn muscles (there’s definitely a limit to how much housework can be done at once!) – so I was pleasantly surprised by how many books I finished, and more so when I noted the ones I had on the go that were almost finished. There were days to read outside which was lovely. And during my mandatory no-more-housework days I got through the BBC’s Ghosts which I highly recommend, and Love Life which seems to be BBC/American, a well structured romance/drama sort of series by and starring Anna Kendrick. I can also highly recommend the Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn Bringing Up Baby if you’ve not seen it – it’s on iPlayer for several months and is pretty hilarious. Don’t read the film summary; not knowing what it’s about made it even better.

The Books

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Eric Beck Rubin: School Of Velocity – Jan’s lined up to play in front of an audience, one of many occasions he’s done so, but this time the random music in his head is too much to bear; he takes us back to his childhood, his extremely popular and extroverted friend, and a relationship that he’s still to get his head around. This was a re-read: a super book about the lasting affects of a friendship and a whole lot about music in all its technicality.

Intisar Khanani: Sunbolt – On the run from the puppeteers behind the government. A diverse quasi-Asian/Eastern fantasy that’s brilliantly written and thrilling, but is short in terms of plot – this was a re-read: there is now a second book out (this was a re-read) and knowing that means that the issue of length is not a problem. The second book is also a lot longer. In essence, it’s best to go into the novella with a plan to continue the full story. The series as a whole is utterly fab.

Intisar Khanani: Memories Of Ash – Hitomi, now somewhat better and with more magical knowledge, looks to find her mentor who has had to leave to be questioned by the Arch Mages. This is the book mentioned above: it’s full of diversity, very well planned and written and just an absolute riot – a brilliant book full of hope and reader fun against a backdrop of evil.

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Marianne Holmes: All Your Little Lies – Local teenager Chloe is missing, and Annie realises she’s probably the last one who saw Chloe that night… except that she was drunk and so didn’t see anything, had driven home drunk, and before that had entered her boss’s home without permission after he told her to leave the pub the team was socialising in; difficult to explain. An incredibly well-planned novel exploring PTSD and the effects of trauma and alienation from society.

Orlando Ortega-Medina: The Savior Of 6th Street – Virgilio’s artwork is bought by a wealthy woman; Beatrice wants to make him a star but this means leaving behind a lot and being among people very different to those he values, people with connections to the underground. Hopefully that brief premise is enough – this is a very good tale about art and an effective clash of a couple of different worlds that uses as its literary base the religion of Santería, weaving religious concepts into its chapters.

Tammye Huf: A More Perfect Union – The potato famine in Ireland has left Henry’s family destitute; he travels to America in the hope of a better life and whilst looking for work meets Sarah, a house slave walking back to her plantation from an errand; the two become close and the ultimate goal is to escape, which will prove more difficult than Henry could ever expect. A fantastic story, based on the author’s great-great-grandparents, that in its use of romance amongst an appalling situation manages to highlight all the more the horrors of the slavery era whilst maintaining that feeling of hope for those who escaped.

This was a very strong set of books, all very different and so difficult to compare in any way. I loved the Holmes for the author’s careful handling of her character’s situation; I loved the Huf for that excellent balancing of romance and the history; the Ortega-Medina was compelling for its use of Santería, the way it was used as a crucial aspect yet carefully placed as to sometimes appear abstract; Khanani’s Chronicles were a lot of fun (despite the bad guys) and refreshing; and re-reading the Beck Rubin was a delight.

Looking at November, I’m happy to say I’ve a couple of Deborah Swift books to read – the subtextual answer there is ‘yes’ and I’m looking forward to it! Earlier this month I finished Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop which I hope to review soon – it’s going to be quite a different review for good reason, and the basics are ‘loved it’. And I’ve got a couple of Young Writer of the Year shortlisters waiting for me. I’m also starting to look at books I started earlier in the year and didn’t manage to finish – Christmas is going to be very quiet this year and unless my nephew commandeers all my time for gaming over the Internet (which I wouldn’t mind), there’s going to a lot of reading involved.

Has the pandemic changed your reading, and if so, in what way?


Owing to my lesser ability to use a computer recently, I’ve two podcast episodes to include here. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media players below.

Episode 25: Intisar Khanani

Charlie and Intisar Khanani (Thorn; Sunbolt; Memories Of Ash; the forthcoming The Theft Of Sunlight) discuss working to better the health of people in Cincinnati, rewriting and exploring the Goose Girl fairy tale to stunning effect, bonkers jail-breaking heroines, and men who take a far more subtle approach than riding in on horses to save the day.

To see all the details including links to other apps, go to the dedicated blog page.

Episode 26: Eric Beck Rubin

Charlie and Eric Beck Rubin (School Of Velocity) discuss the representation of the Holocaust in literature, using classical music as a literary device, having a main character whose person limits the opportunity for dialogue through his obsession with another, and the reader being a writer.

Please note that the first reading contains sexual content.

To see all the details including links to other apps, go to the dedicated blog page.

 
September 2020 Reading Round Up + Podcast

September has been an all systems go month. During the latter half in particular, I was reading a lot, enough that I’m taking a break from it for a few days. As well as the list below I read all but a few percent of two more so there was officially more reading done but those books will be on October’s list.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Christina Courtney: Echoes Of The Runes – Mia would never have expected to see an exact copy of her own ring in the display cabinet of a Viking museum exhibit, but it happens and sets off a chain of events that see her co-leading an archaeology team with a handsome expert, digging up her grandmother’s lands… and being called to echoes of a story of early medieval romance in Viking Sweden. A fun time slip with a good back story and an interesting use of the concept of coincidence.

Intisar Khanani: Thorn – When Princess Alyrra is betrothed to Prince Kestrin, she’s not comfortable with the idea of travelling to his kingdom with Valka, who dislikes her, and the sudden appearance of a mage followed by a fae-like lady the night before has her more so; as Valka betrays her and the two womens’ bodies are switched Alyrra starts a different journey, one that will involve learning all manner of things about herself in order to turn back the changes, and all manner of things about her new kingdom that royalty are never privvy to. A superb fairytale retelling and adaptation, Khanani expanding on the ideas in the original Goose Girl to incredible effect.

Joanna Hickson: First Of The Tudors – A fictionised story of Jasper Tudor, son of Catherine de Valois and her second husband Owen Tudor, as well as Jane, mother of his illegitimate children, taking us from Jasper’s early years to the initial first campaigns to bring Jasper’s nephew, the future Henry VII, to the throne. A fantastic story, immersive, detailed, and just simply a very good book in general.

Joanna Hickson: The Tudor Crown – Centering this time on Henry and his mother Margaret Beaufort, the story takes us to the early days of Henry VII’s reign. As good as the previous book.

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Joanna Hickson: The Lady Of The Ravens – A fictionalised story of Joan Vaux, lady in waiting to Elizabeth of York, taking us from Elizabeth’s early days as queen (before her coronation) to beyond Joan’s marriage. With a change in over all focus to court life in the context of the experience of women, this book is both a sequel to the previous and its own story entirely; it’s also very good.

Nicholas Royle: An English Guide To Birdwatching – Silas and Ethel have handed their undertaking business to their son in exchange for a relaxing retirement by the sea, and meanwhile an unrelated Stephen Osmer is hammering out diatribes on his computer keyboard, but both stories are woven together in the form of their unfortunate connection to a literary critic called Nicholas Royle who has unwittingly upset them all. A brilliant piece of meta fiction by one of the two writers called Nicholas Royle.

Nicholas Royle: Quilt – His parents both having passed away, his father’s death very new, our main character moves into the house and starts to wonder about rays, the marine kind, eventually deciding to build a massive tank in the dining room and importing a few for his own. Difficult to say more than that, and it’s already giving a fair amount away – this book is a highly literary, meta, story about particular struggles and, in particular, death.

This has been an absolutely stellar month; I have a favourite, Thorn, but everything else was up there. There was a lot of immersive fiction too, with Hickson and Khanani being particularly excellent in this regard.

So moving (further) into October, I have some more podcast reads lined up as well as a couple of review copies I’m looking forward to.

What are you reading at the moment?


This week’s podcast episode is with Nicholas Royle (Quilt; An English Guide To Birdwatching; Mother: A Memoir). Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

Charlie and Nicholas Royle (Quilt; An English Guide To Birdwatching; Mother: A Memoir) discuss killing yourself – your avatar – off in your fiction, using ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’, and sharing a name with another British writer who also writes fiction… that is also about birds…

Please note that the first reading is set in a public toilet and discusses explicitly concepts around discomfort in this regard, ‘size’, and so forth.

To see all the details including links to other apps, I’ve made a blog page here.

 
August 2020 Reading Round Up

August got the better of me; I didn’t read as much. I spent a lot more time gaming than reading but I did get back to books I started a few months ago, namely James Rebanks’ A Shepherd’s Life, which I borrowed from my dad a year or two ago…

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Midge Raymond: Forgetting English – A collection of stories based around the themes of travel, and women trying to live with the career versus family issue. Rather awesome; there’s lots going on here away from the obvious things that an inevitable number of characters and storylines brings, and the attention to the details Raymond has chosen is wonderful.

Midge Raymond: My Last Continent – A cruise ship is heading a little too much towards Antarctica and Deb knows that lover Keller may be on board. A good book about a titanic-like shipwreck with lots of information about Antarctica and what we need to do to save it.

Peter Ho Davies: The Fortunes – Four stories connected by Chinese American history, racism, passing, and that rubbish idea that all Asians look the same: we follow 1800s Ling as he works for a Chinese American laundryman and white American railway construction company owner; Hollywood star Anna May Wong discusses her career progression which is marred by racism; a fictionised friend of Vincent Chin discusses the night of his death and what followed; and John travels to China with his wife to adopt a baby, already having lots to think about on the subject of being Asian American now and throughout history, and finding even more now as he goes through the last stages of the handover. An utterly fantastic book – the handling of the subjects, and the writing and language in general is superb.

Peter Ho Davies: The Welsh Girl – A German man, Jewish by Nazi standards, becomes an investigator for the Allies and works on getting information from Rudolph Hess; meanwhile, Esther deals with a short relationship that goes very wrong and the introduction of a German POW into her life; said POW, Karsten, tries to make sense of everything including his surrender on the behalf of those with him. A difficult one to summarise without spoilers, this is an interesting book that looks at aspects of WWII we don’t often hear about, and deals with them in a unique way.

I’ll pick a favourite from both the authors, because that’s a lot easier than picking a favourite over all – Raymond’s My Last Continent, Ho Davies’ The Fortunes.

For September I’m continuing Christina Courtney’s Echoes Of The Runes, Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop and I need to get to Orlando Ortega-Medina’s Savior Of Sixth Street; I’m late on that.

What do you plan to read in these next few weeks?

 

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